Two Views of the Mormon Book of Abraham
What Is It?
The Book of Abraham is a book in the Mormon Scripture the Pearl of Great Price. The Mormon (LDS) Church claims it is God's Scripture. Non-Mormons claim it is a fake. Who is right?
This paper is not meant to be pro-Mormon or anti-Mormon, but to objectively show both sides so you can make an informed decision.
The Origin of the Scrolls
Joseph Smith, the founder of Mormonism and translator of the Book of Mormon, obtained some ancient Egyptian scrolls in July, 1835. Joseph stated they contained the writings of Abraham, and his divinely inspired translation of them became Mormon scripture.
While people back then could not read ancient Egyptian to test his claim, people today can. By comparing the scrolls with his translation, we could know whether he
1) was a miraculous translator, or
2) was a fraud, a deceitful prophet.
He must be one or the other.
Why Is This So Important
If Joseph Smith was unable to translate the Book of Abraham from ancient Egyptian, he could not translate the Book of Mormon from ancient Egyptian either. If he could not translate one, then he could not divinely translate both.
Assuming God did inspire Joseph Smith, then all (Mormons and non-Mormons) who want to follow the true God should believe this true prophet. Assuming Joseph Smith is a fraud, then all (Mormons and non-Mormons) who want to follow the true God must reject this con-man. Do you agree? Are you someone who wants to follow the true God?
To reiterate, if the Mormon Church is right, truth-lovers are compelled to join Mormonism. If the Mormon Church is wrong, then truth-lovers are compelled to reject Mormonism. May the Holy Spirit guide you to truth as you read on.
1) Since he tried to translate, and
2) we have the correct scrolls, and
3) we can compare the two, and
4) comparing them is laughable, and
5) the captions sound obscene,
Then the Book of Abraham is a fake, Joseph Smith is a fraud, and no honest, informed person should believe Mormon lies.
1) If he did not try to translate, or
2) we do not have the correct scrolls,
Then the Book of Abraham is no barrier to all honest, informed people believing Mormon truth.
Let's look at each point, and then you can make an informed decision.
1. Joseph Smith's Words
"A Translation of some ancient Records, that have fallen into our hands from the catacombs of Egypt. -- The writings of Abraham written by his own hand, upon papyrus." Pearl of Great Price p.29.
A Mormon, Benjamin Urrutia, wrote that the idolatrous Egyptian scrolls might be written in secret code. Thus a pagan teaching was really written by God with secret messages for believers. To be fair, it must be said that the LDS Church has not sanctioned this view. The only "official" view the author knows of is Joseph Smith's own words.
2. The Right Scrolls?
Three ways we know these are the scrolls Smith tried to translate: 1) the pictures match, 2) the characters (hieroglyphs) were copied to the English originals, and 3) Joseph Smith even wrote his own Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar.
1. The pictures match and captions are the same. The only difference was a penciled in spot on picture #1 that was in ink in the BOA.
2. The hieroglyphs were copied to 3 of the 4 English originals. (Joseph would dictate to one to four scribes.) Of the eighty-odd Egyptian hieroglyphs on the scroll, 20, 13, and 10 hieroglyphs were written on manuscripts #1, #2, and #3. When there were gaps in the scroll 7, 6, & 6 restored hieroglyphs were added.
3. The church still has Joseph Smith's bound, 34-page book called Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. The book has the hieroglyphs and a very similar English 'translation.'
3. Comparing Translations
Here is Dr. Klaus Baer's translation of the scroll. (Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought: Autumn 1968 p. 119-120.)
"Osiris shall be conveyed into the Great Pool of Khons --and likewise Osiris Hor, justified born to Tikhebyt, justified --after his arms have been placed on his heart and the Breathing Permit (which [Isis] made and has writing on its inside and outside) has been wrapped in royal linen and placed under his left arm near his heart; the rest of his mummy bandages should be wrapped over it. The man for whom this book has been copied will breathe forever as the bas of the gods do." (bas are souls.)
4. The Egyptologists' Verdict
Smith translated thousands of English words from about 80 hieroglyphs. Joseph said this was the writing of Abraham and the word of his god. Actually it was a variant of the Book of the Dead, a pagan Egyptian magic book filled with heathen idols, often buried with mummies.
Dr. Richard Parker of Brown University in a personal letter to Marvin Cowen dated Jan. 9 1968 said, "I have seen Joseph Smith's Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar. The interpretation of the signs purported to be Egyptian have no resemblance to the meaning ascribed to them by Egyptologists."
Dr. A.B. Mercer said 50 years ago, "Any pupil of mine who would show such absolute ignorance of Egyptian as Smith does, could not possibly expect to get more than zero in an examination in Egyptology." (Improvement Era, v.16, p.615.).
Dr. John A. Wilson wrote, "...as far as I am concerned I see pieces of two or possibly three different papyrii and every one of them looks like a traditional Book of the Dead." (letter Jan. 5, 1968.)
5. Comparing the Captions
Smith said these were God's scripture. Professional scholars say they are from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. See what you think.
Facsimile (picture) #2
The Book of Abraham caption says this [Min] is god. It must be noted the LDS Church has never officially said their god is a copulating bull without equal.
Facsimile (picture) #3
O gods of ..., gods of the caverns, gods of the south, north, west, and east, grant well-being to Osiris Hor justified
The Actual Origin of the Book of Abraham
God's love is immense. Praise the Lord that we can trust him; He would never lead us down a stray path of chicanery; and if we went down the road of error ourselves, He would send His children to warn us that we can return to His love. Rejoice in God's ways. God's faithful servants would never lead people to believe a cruel hoax. Agreed?
Examine your ways; if the Most High shows you that your belief is one of integrity, well and good; but if this tract is a light exposing a trust betrayed, do not be slow in following God's truth.
Part I Recapped
In Part I, we quoted Joseph Smith's claim that he translated the Mormon Book of Abraham from ancient Egyptian scrolls. We used those papyri to test Joseph Smith's claim after making certain those were the right scrolls. It appears Joseph Smith could not translate Egyptian any better than you or I. The result is nothing less than a hoax on Joseph Smith's part. Since Joseph Smith could not translate the Egyptian scrolls how could an impostor translate the Book of Mormon, written in what was claimed to be the same language? The cover has a picture of the Egyptian text and one of the original manuscripts.
Mormon scholars do have several explanations. This tract will briefly outline those explanations and the reasons why they fail to be adequate. Sometimes a Mormon investigator can learn as much from Mormons' defense of a preposterous claim as they can from a Christian's godly rebuke.
I. A Mysterious Connection
The first category of Mormon explanations is that there is a mysterious, unknown connection with the pagan book. Adherents of this view say it does not matter what the Egyptian really says; only what Joseph Smith got out of it is important. Dr. Henry Eyring espoused this view in the Book of Abraham Symposium, April 3 1970 p. 3.
A variation of this was advocated by Benjamin Urrutia in Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought summer, 1969 pp.130-134. He claims that the Book of Abraham was put in secret code as the Book of Breathings so that the Egyptians would not destroy it. Later the key was lost, but Joseph Smith supernaturally translated or decoded it.
Both variations of the first category of answers miss a crucial implication. The source of the Book of Abraham is an occultic book. Why would scripture from the True God honor the worship of false idols? God hated the abominable gods of the Egyptians. (Ezekiel 20:8 and Jeremiah 43:12-44:6).
II. A Matter of Time
This theory says that before Smith got the Egyptian papyrus God gave him a vision of both a scroll and the English translation. The scroll the Mormons purchased in July 1835 was not the same scroll; Joseph mistook it for the same scroll because the pictures on each were so similar. Thus the Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar was Joseph's misguided attempt to match a true divine inspiration with his own, erroneous view of the scroll.
There is no evidence to support this intriguing theory. Joseph Smith's words of his Diary stand against it as well as The Documented History of the Church (DHC). The Diary refers to translating October 7 and November 14 through December 3 all in 1835. Warren Parish was hired to write for Joseph October 29, 1835. Joseph Smith's Diary has no references at all to writing a Book of Abraham before this very significant purchase. The DHC was written in 1843, but it too has corroborating evidence. its earliest mention translating a Book of Abraham is July 1835, DHC 2:238:
"The remainder of this month (July, 1835) I was
continually engaged in translating an alphabet to
the Book of Abraham and arranging a grammar of the
Egyptian language as practiced by the ancients."
No Mormon, including Joseph Smith, has given any indication of there being a Book of Abraham prior to July 1835. While Christians claim Joseph dreamed up the Book of Abraham, Joseph never said that.
III. No Connection at All
A third explanation is to deny an connection with the pagan book. Hugh Nibley's book The Message of the Joseph Smith Papyrii postulates the Egyptian characters next to the three English manuscripts as later unauthorized additions by members who attempted to translate themselves. This can be proved false because in Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar Joseph Smith personally directed the placement of the Egyptian and the English.
Dr. Nibley believed the Egyptians themselves made a mistake in putting the picture next to the test. Dr. Nibley's book on page 3 says "In his edition of the Book of Breathings Pap. Louvre N.3279, J. C. Goyon warns the student that the vignettes accompanying the text 'have often only a very remote connection with the substance (le developpement) of the writing.'"
While connections can be remote, Dr. Nibley is trying to make his words mean that they could not even put the right picture in the right book. The different Books of the Dead have pictures very similar to this one. They have text very similar to Joseph's text. There is no reason to doubt that he first picture of the Book of Abraham was a heading of the Book of the Dead.
It is pointed out that the scroll does not match a description given by Oliver Cowdery later ascribed to Joseph Smith that "The record of Abraham and Joseph found with the mummies, is beautifully written on papyrus, with black and a small part red, ink, or paint, in perfect preservation." (DHC vol.2, p348 and the footnote on p360.)
Dr. Nibley mistakenly thought Joseph was the speaker, but according to B. H. Robert's footnote on p.350, it was actually written in a letter by Oliver Cowdery, not Joseph Smith. Besides the fact that Cowdery never claimed to be able to read the scrolls because he did not know Egyptian, he refers to the writings of Joseph as well as Abraham. Most of the other scrolls do fit this description. Since one of these was most likely Joseph Smith's Book of Joseph scroll, Cowdery's description of the whole is correct.
Dr. Nibley in his books made no mention of the most direct evidence, Joseph Smith's book Egyptian Alphabet and Grammar but in BYU Studies Winter 1968 p.176, here is how he dismissed it: "It was hidden and suppressed for the same reason that Brigham Young's laundry lists are hidden and suppressed, because it was nobody else's business." Does this statement sound like a sincere concern for truth?
IV. Some Amazing Parallels
A fourth answer in Dr. Nibley's book Abraham in Egypt are parallels he found between the Book of Abraham and various apocryphal books. The Jewish Apocalypse of Abraham is discussed the most. Though Dr. Nibley discovered eighteen parallels of phrasing, there is no mention of how different the point of both the books were. Here is how they unfold.
In the Mormon Book of Abraham Abraham's fathers worshipped Egyptian idols while Abraham obtained the priesthood of God. The priests in Egypt almost sacrificed Abraham because he would not bow to their idols, when God rescued him. Pharaoh imitated the true priesthood, but he could not obtain it because of his race. Chapter Two parallels Genesis, talking of Abraham's journeys from Ur to Canaan and Egypt. Chapter Three talks of the stars, and how God is near a plant named Kolob. It also speaks of the intelligences organized before the world was, Jesus' plan of salvation Lucifer's plan, and Lucifer's rebellion. Chapter Four is almost like Genesis One, except it speaks of polygods who organized the world instead of One God who created the universe. That is a brief outline, though not the full content of the Book of Abraham.
In the Jewish Apocalypse of Abraham, Abraham never set foot in Egypt in the entire story. The book begins with a clever attack on idolatry; the setting is Abraham as a boy with his father. The second part is a description of seven visions of the last judgment. There is nothing in there about a priesthood Abraham's adult life, or even Kolob. Despite the parallels Dr. Nibley has pieced together, there is no meaningful relationship between the books.
V. But the bible has Non-Biblical Connections
Some say the best defense is a good offense. A fifth rationale is the Books of Jude and First Enoch. A Mormon argued that though it is conceded the Book of Abraham was falsely taken from the Egyptian Book of the Dead, The Book of Jude has a quote by Enoch from the Jewish Book of First Enoch. So, his argument went, the situation is the same.
The situation has fundamental differences. At worst Jude may be accused or error in ascribing this prophecy to Enoch. No one can compare Jude's sentence with taking the scripture of alien idols making a phony translation, and honoring the idol pictures on the level of Holy Scripture.
Some Bible scholars say Jude's quote was an ad hominem argument like Acts 17:38 and Titus 1:12. First Enoch was a godly book know to Jews and early Christians, and they would recognize the reference as from that book.
Moreover, who can say Enoch did not prophecy this? First Enoch is held to have composite authorship; composite books have earlier sources. The situation is similar to Genesis and the Gilgamesh Epic, before archaeologists unearthed the Ebla tablets. While Jude's quote is not verifiable or testable; no evidence proves his quote wrong.
VI. A Last Stand --A Stimulus is the Only Connection
A final objection a "last stand" the author has heard is this. Joseph Smith was admittedly deceived in thinking he was really translating the scrolls. Maybe though God still used the admittedly idol text to inspire Joseph. Like a burning candle could inspire a mystic's vision the scrolls were perhaps a "spark" God used to start him off.
Those who hold this view do not know the character of our Lord. The True God would not let a true prophet be deluded in inventing imaginative descriptions of the Egyptian cultic funeral scenes. smith's god guided him to his own scripture. At least Joseph though so. If the True God did not give Joseph the English translation, which God was Joseph listening to? The fruit of Smith's work glorifies Joseph's god. As long as it advances Mormonism, some do not even care that Satan was the source of the scrolls Joseph was clearly in deception and the result honors images of idols.
What Should We Do?
"Consider Abraham: 'He believed God was it was credited to him as righteousness.' Understand, then that those who believe are children of Abraham." (Gal 3:6,7) The real Abraham did not honor idol scriptures but believed God in integrity; so should you. Tell those you love the truth about the Book of Abraham. Trust in the god of this book is a trust betrayed. Seek the Truth of God.
If you do not yet have the joy and peace and challenges of being born again in the Spirit, you need to do this:
Repent of your desire for selfish glory, your quest for your own selfish happiness. While Mormons theologically want to become their own gods, we all at one time or another acted like little gods in our daily life. We all have thought we could exist quite nicely, away from a Master we will no longer need. You can never be your own God; our Rock will support us forever. Our pride masks the fact that all of us are broken people. Cry out for the Master Healer. We cannot be whole without Jesus' healing, given when He was wounded and broken at the cross. We will never remain whole without God's continual gift of His tree of life. Accept God's grace and turn over your entire life to Him right now. The peace and joy and challenges will be only the beginning ... of the life abundant.
For more info please contact Christian Debater™ P.O. Box 144441 Austin, TX 78714 www.BibleQuery.org
by Steven M. Morrison, PhD.